Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

You are pressed for time.

I know it. I have the receipts.

Every time I lead a Learn with NoveList course, I ask a question of my audience. What’s the hardest part of library marketing?

And in every single class, the answer is always the same: Finding the time to do the work.

And yet, you’re expected to crank out library promotion after library promotion. You are asked to increase visitors, program attendance, circulation, and donations to your library. And you are often doing this promotional work while doing other things like answering reference questions, shelving books, filling holds, and cleaning the bathroom.

It’s exhausting. And sometimes, it seems downright impossible.

Time management is hard. But the benefits are well worth it. Time management helps you achieve bigger goals, reduces procrastination, and increases productivity.

I was fortunate, early in my library career, to have a mentor who helped me get control of my schedule and learn how to prioritize my work. It’s now my turn to pass on the six most effective tips for managing your time without losing your mind.

Tip #1: Schedule everything.

My calendar is more than a place to keep track of meetings. It serves as the hub for all my work tasks.

If you need time to focus, research, or think about something, schedule it in your calendar. Schedule the time you’ll be spending at the front desk. Schedule the time it takes you to work on holds or shelve books. Schedule the programs you’ll lead. Schedule time to read your email. Schedule everything.

Here is a screenshot of my calendar. I use color coding to help me keep track of important, ongoing projects. Notice I even schedule my daily walk!

This method makes it clear what you’ll be working on each day. It also keeps you from forgetting tasks. When I’m given an action item from a meeting, I immediately go to my calendar and schedule time to do that work.

I also enter recurring tasks in my calendar, so I can be reminded to add those tasks to my wish list (see tip #6) when the time to do them arrives. This leaves me more time to focus on tasks for today, and not worry that I’ve forgotten to do something important.

Tip #2: Arrange your daily tasks in order of difficulty.

The most difficult or important thing on your to-do list should be the first thing you get done every day. This method creates momentum and frees up the rest of your day so you can do easier tasks or tasks you enjoy more.

Tip #3: Block out distractions.

If you need to concentrate, do whatever you have to do to get focused. A study at the University of California, Irvine found that, once you get distracted, it takes 23 minutes to regain focus. That’s a lot of time.

When you need to remove distractions, you should:

  • Shut down your email.
  • Shut down Microsoft Teams, Skype, or whatever program your library uses for internal messaging.
  • Close your website browser.
  • Turn your phone over so you can’t see the screen and put the ringer on vibrate.
  • Go to another location. This is especially important if your workspace is in a shared office or near patron areas of your library. It is okay to create physical barriers between you and your distractions!

Tip #4: Say “no” to be more efficient.

If you’re asked to add to your library promotional schedule but the addition does not drive the overall strategy of the library or falls outside the boundaries of your documented marketing strategy, say no. Saying no gives you time to really concentrate on the pieces that will help your library the most. Your work will be better the LESS you do.

I understand this is extremely difficult to do. I encourage you to bookmark this short but powerful essay on the power of saying no in marketing from Joe Pulizzi. I re-read this piece when I need a little help saying no!

Tip #5: Take creative breaks.

No one can churn out tasks, one right after the other, all day long. Creative breaks will give your mind a rest and help you focus when you need to. Walk the stacks or go for a walk around the block. Get away from your desk for five minutes to stretch your legs and gather your thoughts.

Tip #6: At the end of every day, celebrate what you got done and make a wish list for tomorrow. 

Many, many years ago, I heard singer Wynonna Judd say something that I think about almost every day. She was discussing her schedule, and how easy it is to get to the end of the day and to feel like a failure. That’s because many of us focus on what we didn’t manage to get done, instead of celebrating what we did accomplish.

I took that to heart. At the end of the day, I spend a few minutes paying homage to the work I did, even if I didn’t make it to all the tasks I intended to do.

Then, I make a “wish list” of tasks for the next day. Notice I don’t call it a “to-do list.” That’s because library staff must be flexible and deal with unexpected work.

As you make out your “wish list,” include every task: meetings, lunches, phone calls, calculations, reports, writing assignments–the whole deal. At the end of today, go through your wish list and highlight three things that absolutely must get done. Those will be the first three things you tackle the next day.

Be protective about your wish list. If someone emails you with a task and it isn’t urgent, put it on tomorrow’s list.

And finally, do not beat yourself up if you don’t finish every task on your list. Move uncompleted items to the wish list for the next day.

More Advice

14 Completely Random and Free Tools You Need in Your Life To Make Your Library Promotional Work Easier

Four Important Project Management Lessons You’ll Need to Survive the Next Year of Library Work

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